My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

30 August 2006


Well, that's it. It's all over. I give up. My favorite jeans have died.

See the holes? I was in denial for a while, then I tried in vain to patch them, but I knew the end was nigh. When I took them off yesterday, I realized the horrible truth: I wore them to death. There's no salvaging them now.

28 August 2006

Lange Nacht der Museen, part two

If you'll recall, in the last post I detailed my exploits during the first 2.5 hours of the Long Night of the Museums. I thought I would use this post to catch you all up on the last 3+ hours, but I promise to not go into as much detail as the last post. I realize it was a bit long. After leaving the Rembrandt exhibit I headed for the New National Galery next door. I walked in and was slightly disconcerted; it's a difficult transition to go from Rembrandt to contemporary art. I walked around and let the art soak in. In the end, I liked the exhibit, but it kept suffering in the comparison to Rembrandt (or Dürer, Brueghel, van der Weyden, etc.). I snapped this photo from outside the gallery:

As you can see, it was like a circus. There was art hanging from the ceiling, an uneven floor, a giant bee, and that's just what you can see in the photo. There was lots of art that you can interact with, like a series of photos and texts printed on cheesecloth and hung together so that you have to walk through them to read them. I didn't stay long, but I'm glad I went.

After that it was off to the Martin Gropius Bau and Egypt's Sunken Treasures. Once there, I was greeted by a long line, but I was prepared for this: all the good museums have lines. Several people just behind me left, saying it wasn't worth waiting "hours" to see. I disagreed and stayed (and only waited thirty-five minutes). It was a once in a lifetime experience. The artifacts in the exhibit were excavated from the Bays of Alexandria and Aboukir in Egypt over the course of ten years. The exhibit in Berlin was the world premiere, and almost all of the 500 artefacts on display have never been seen before. The exhibit ends on September 4 (They've had to extend the museum's hours to midnight during the week, just to accommodate all the visitors). Plus, the exhibit will only travel for two years before returning to Egypt permanently (The next stop is in France, and the exhibit will travel to two more as yet undecided European countries). I simply wouldn't have the chance to see this ever again, so I waited.

Wow! I'm sorry that most of you reading this won't have the chance to see the exhibit; it was amazing. The archealogical team found artifacts spanning sixteen centuries from the cities of Canopus, Thonis-Herakleion (It was a result of this excavation that they were able to determine that the two cities were in fact the same), and the Bay of Alexandria, which all sunk into the sea as the result of earthquakes and other natural disasters/climate changes in the 8th century CE. I'll spare you the details and only hit the highlights, but if you have an interest in Egypt and antiquities, I recommend planning a trip to France (I'm guessing it will move on to England after that, and then maybe to Russia or the Czech Republic) to see it or buying the catalogue.

The exhibition contains some remarkable things: private devotional objects from Herakleion, early Christian jewelry from Canopus, the "largest free-standing statue of an Egyptian divinity every found":

There's also the largest stone tablet containing both Greek and Egyptian texts (It's like the Rosetta Stone on steroids):

Many of the artifacts date from the Ptolemaic dynasty (305 BCE to 30 BCE), which was an exceptionally interesting period in Egyptian history. Since the great Pharoahs were gone, there was a bit of a power vacuum, and the art of the time reflects the influences of Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman cultures. This statue has the traditional posture of a pharoah, but the body and the drapery are distinctly Greek:

Pretty cool, eh? It makes me want to travel to Egypt. I will, however, wait about ten years for that until (a) I have a real income and (b) they build the underwater museum at Alexandria .

I left the exhibit and followed the line of the Berlin Wall (In case any of you are following this on a map.) and walked through the Topography of Terror exhibit, a museum of sorts built into the excavated remains of a Nazi/SS prison (The Prinz Albrecht Gelände, I believe the area is called). There's also part of the Berlin Wall there that's been picked clean in some places. Even though the area has such a dark, horrific history, the area looked really pretty lit up and full of visitors. I followed the wall to Checkpoint Charlie and then walked up Friedrichstrasse, past all the glamorous stores (Gucci, Escada, etc.) wth wonderful window displays. After a quick stop at the train station for some much-needed sustenance (not to mention caffeine), I went to the German Historical Museum where there was, miraculously, no line. At 11:15 I sat down in the inner coutryard of the museum (which has been covered by a glass roof) and caught up in my journal. I started in the special exhibit about refugees, displacement and immigration, situated in the museums I.M. Pei designed addition:

It was very interesting, with lots of authentic documents and artifacts, but I didn't really have the energy for it. I walked to the permanent exhibit, but knew I was in trouble as soon as I walked up the stairs and saw the sign reading "500-100 BCE" I knew I was in trouble. I didn't have the energy for 2500 years of German history, so I very quickly made the decision to come back another time (tomorrow, I think). I walked through the exhibit at warp speed and made a stop at the museum shop before I left. I'd been avoiding museum shops because I didn't want to (a) spend money and (b) have to lug around heavy bags all night, but this was the last stop so I figured, "What the hell?" I bought some really fun stuff, including this book:

After that I was homeward-bound. I had, of course, missed the last bus, so I had to walk for 20 minutes. I got home just after 1.00, exhausted and with aching feet, but it was well worth it.


27 August 2006

Lange Nacht der Museen, part one

My night began at 18.00 (See how German I'm becoming?) at the Kulturforum. The city was starting to get busy, and I followed a big crowd to the museums located there. I went in but missed the big sign pointing the way to the Rembrandt paintings and instead headed for the main galleries of the Gemäldegalerie. They were all but deserted (completely undeservedly). The Gemäldegalerie is a paradise for lovers of northern European art (especially from the medieval and renaissance/early modern periods). There were rooms full of Cranachs (one of the pictures of skinny, naked women and two Adam and Eve pics), Hans Holbein the Youngers (a beautiful weeping Maria and what appears to be an early modern nursing bra, serious), Albrecht Dürers (Has anybody else noticed that his paintings of women look like men?), and a fabulous collection of Robert Campins and Rogier van der Weydens, including this one:

There's a painting by Hieronymous Bosch, the famous Brueghel "Dutch Proverbs" (Speaking of which, I'm thinking of going back to the museum store to buy a poster of this for my apartment. The question is, will early modern art really mesh with the Swedish modern aesthetic I have going?), some Rubens and Frans Hals, and this famous painting by Jean Fouquet:

The detail was absolutely beautiful and can't be appreciated on that photo. I wanted to reach out and touch the velvet on his robe, it was so realistic. There were also TWO Vermeers (the girl trying on the pearl necklace and the couple drinking wine), and the galleries were EMPTY! I couldn't believe it. This museum has everything: Maria in every conceivable form (weeping, nursing, enthroned, etc.), fabulous copies of fabulous paintings (Bosch, van der Weyden), and plenty of gore and torture and representations of Hell. I could easily have spent the whole night there, but there were plenty of other museums to see. As soon as the art began to get more modern, I tuned out (although there was one very cool painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds). And I didn't even mention the Fra Angelicos, the Fra Filippo Lippis, the Mantegnas or the Botticelli.

I then breezed through two of the three parts of the Rembrandt exhibit: etchings and drawings. I don't know what to say about them, except that they were wonderful and perfect, just like mini-Rembradt-paintings. I then went in search of the R. paintings and paid for the wonderful ninety minutes of alone time in the other galeries by waiting in a huge line. I was well equipped with a book, and the thirty-minute wait went fairly quickly. By 20.00 I was standing in a small octagonal (or perhaps hexagonal) room (painted hunter green, of all colors) containing thirty-five paintings. It was amazing to see so many Rembrandts together in one room; there were paintings on loan from New York, Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Toronto, Russia, and Amsterdam, as well as a couple from the Gemäldegalerie's permanent collection. There were four wonderful paintings of Titus, his son, and several beautiful portrayals of the holy family, with each one looking like a normal, middle-class Dutch couple. They had two nearly identical paintings on display of "Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife," one by Rembrandt and one by a follower, to demonstrate the difficulty of making an accurate attribution. Also on display was one of the most famous paintings: the man in the gold helmet, which has fairly recently been unattributed (deattributed?) to R. and is believed to be the work of a student. But this painting was my favorite (Sara waiting for Tobias):

After viewing the Rembrandts I left the museum and took this photo of Potsdamer Platz all lit up (Sorry it's a bit fuzzy):

It was such a beautiful night; the picture doesn't even begin to capture it. Mostly what the photo misses is the atmosphere. There was live music playing (something vaguely classical, but with a modern adaptation, if that makes any sense) and tents set up selling wine and beer and the place was buzzing.

Well, I think that's enough for now, but don't worry, there's more. Oh, and in case you're wondering how I'm able to recount so many details, I'm writing this post from my notes. (Yes, I took notes; I already admitted I'm a big nerd. This is just further proof.)

One footnote for any art history buffs:
The Gemäldegalerie had a handful of paintings by Frans Hals on display, but try as I might, I couldn't find a Judith Leyster. The state museums of Berlin have every other major northern European artist and many minor ones, why not her? I realize she wasn't as prolific as Hals, but why do you think she's missing from this museum?


Just a teaser...

It's a quarter after one here and I just got in. I went to four, well, three and a half museums. And then I had to walk home. I'm exhausted and my feet hurt, but I had a BLAST! I'll write a nice long post tomorrow.


25 August 2006

To the aunts who asked about pets...

I threatened to smuggle my parents' cat here in my luggage, but I was afraid he'd be traumatized. However, you can see in this photo that my mom sneaked a pug to Berlin in her luggage:

And here you can see that my neighbor has cats. I might have to steal one. I miss having a pet around.

Thoughts on Museums and Train Stations

Well, I just got home. I went to buy my ticket for the Long Night of the Museums--the best night of the year, in this nerd's opinion. For one night most of the museums in Berlin throw open their doors from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Tickets cost 8 Euro and the trains, subways and buses run most of the night. They even have special bus routes that just run between museums. Many places have music and special events, and most of the churches have concerts. In 2002 I visited the Berliner Dom, the Zoo aquarium, and the Film Museum, and then I got food poisoning and threw up the rest of the night. Hopefully tomorrow night will go better. Even though there will no doubt be lines, I think my first stop will be the Rembrandt exhibit at the Gemäldegalerie, and then maybe the Martin Gropius Bau's exhibit of "Egypt's Sunken Treasures." Beyond that, I still need to decide.
After picking up my ticket I walked around the Reichstag/Brandenburger Tor/Unter den Linden area. I went to a bookstore and picked up a city map, and then walked back down Unter den Linden. There was some kind of fancy event at the Russian embassy (remind me to post later about the embassies), with lights, balloons (in the shapes of the Russian and German flags), sports cars, and plenty of people in fancy dress. I walked through the Brandenburger Tor and to the Reichstag. I briefly considered going up on the roof, but the line was too long (45 mins. to an hour) and it looked like rain, so I kept walking to the train station. I was almost there when the heavens opened up and it POURED. I wonder what happened to the line of people in tuxedos and ball gowns waiting to enter the Russian Embassy. It almost would have been worth going back to see, but it was getting dark and I was already getting wet, even though I had my umbrella.
I took shelter in Hauptbahnhof and ran a few errands. I LOVE living so close to a big train station (THE big station, really; it's one of the busiest in Europe), because it's the only place you can find shops open "late." Everywhere else stores close at 8:00 p.m., and I love it that I could go to the grocery store and the drug store at the decadent hour of 8:30. I made it to the bus that stops around the corner from my apartment just as it was pulling up. Ten minutes later I was home, dripping wet in spite of the umbrella, but in possession of the magical key to open all the museums in town for a night.
I promise to post tomorrow to let you know about Lange Nacht der Museen.


20 August 2006

Getting Settled.

I have been here less than a week and managed to accomplish a ridiculous amount. On Tuesday after our arrival we checked into the hotel, went to the apartment, signed the lease, measured, went to the local government office to register, opened a bank account and went to Ikea and bought furniture. All of this after not having slept on the plane Monday night. Although it all worked out for us, as a general rule I wouldn't advise shopping jetlagged.
On Friday the furniture was delivered. Here you can see all the flatpacks and my mother ready with her hammer and screwdriver:

Twelve hours later it was finished:

It looks like an Ikea showroom, doesn't it?